Dougherty: How Packers coach Matt LaFleur can command the room during first team meeting

Pete Dougherty
Packers News
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PHOENIX – In a little less than two weeks, Matt LaFleur will stand in front of his players and coaches as a group for the first time as the Green Bay Packers' coach.

It’s not like his introductory speech to the team will be make-or-break for the Packers’ rookie coach, but it will set an early tone. You only get one chance to make a first impression and all that.

When the Packers hired LaFleur, a couple of the people I spoke with who think highly of him wondered how well he’ll command the room. LaFleur is relatively unassuming and definitely doesn’t give off the Sean McVay vibe.

These things are probably overrated, because I doubt Don Shula or Tom Landry blew away anybody with their energy talking to their teams, and they rank first and fourth in NFL history in wins.

Still, it will be a big moment for LaFleur when he addresses the team at the start of the offseason training program April 8. LaFleur knows it and has consulted two of his friends who became head coaches in recent years, San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan and the Los Angeles Rams’ McVay.

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur speaks to media on Feb. 18, 2019, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

“You kind of set the tone,” Shanahan said at the NFL owners meeting this week, “your expectations, try to tell them what’s important to you, really who you are as a man, and things that bother you and things that you like. Because everyone’s just sitting there trying to figure out what the coach wants.

“The main thing is, you can’t tell them all in one meeting. Less is more.”

McVay remembered being wound pretty tightly running his first team meeting in 2017 even though he’d practiced his presentation several times.

“It’s making sure you’re prepared but you’re not so scripted where it doesn’t feel genuine,” McVay said. “And so some of the things that are best received is when you go off the cuff but staying within the framework of your message and not being afraid to make fun of yourself a little bit. And that never fails. Matt will do great. I’m excited to hear about it.”

LaFleur said he’s already thought through what he’s going to say.

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“I’ve got a pretty good idea in terms of starting with the introduction of the staff and a little bit of the philosophy with how we want to run our football team,” he said.

Here are a few other observations from the NFL owners meetings:

Doing the math on trading down with Saints

We won’t know for a couple years how Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst’s trade back in the first round of last year’s draft will turn out for his team. But New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said his team got more than its money’s worth by trading a first-rounder this year to select pass rusher Marcus Davenport in the Packers’ spot.

The Saints traded the No. 27 pick last year and No. 30 this year to take Davenport at No. 14. Gutekunst later traded a third-round pick to move back up from No. 27 to No. 18 to take Jaire Alexander. 

“Hypothetically, (if) we finished with four wins this year it’s not a good trade because of the value,” Payton said when I asked him about the deal. “… But 27 and 30 on any number chart, I don’t think you’re going to arrive at 14.”

Actually, going just by the draft-value charts, and accounting for the present vs. future value of a pick, No. 14 is pretty close to where you end up. Teams generally subtract points if an acquired pick is a year down the road, because there’s more value in getting a player now rather than in a year.

The Packers’ trade back up to No. 18 illustrates that. Trading a third-rounder in the ’18 draft got them only four spots shy of what trading a first-rounder in ’19 got the Saints. Teams generally subtract about half the value of the future pick.

Here’s the math according to the three publicly available draft-value charts:

On the old Jimmy Johnson draft-value chart, the Nos. 27 (680 points) and 30 picks (620 points) add up to 1,300 points, which is the equivalent of the No. 10 pick. But, if you cut in half the value of this year’s pick (No. 30), then it’s 990 points, or between the Nos. 16 and 17 picks.

On the Rich Hill draft chart, which is based on trades made since 2012, Nos. 27 (215.81 points) and 30 (196.31) add up to 412.12. That’s between the seventh and eighth picks overall. But taking No. 30 at half value, it’s 313.96 points, or between picks Nos. 15 and 16.

And on a chart by the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, Nos. 27 (214.7) and 30 (205.8) combine for 420.5 points, which is between the second and third picks overall. But cut No. 30 in half, and it’s 317.6 points, or between Nos. 8 and 9 overall.

At this point, though, what matters is how the players turn out. Alexander had a promising rookie season with the Packers and was one of their best defensive players for much of the year.

I don’t know how much Payton traffics in hyperbole when talking about his guys, but he said he sees Davenport as a potentially “dominant” rusher. Davenport was slowed last season and missed three games because of a toe injury that required surgery, and he finished with 4½ sacks.

“When he played last year we feel like we saw some real good traits to where we feel like this guy’s going to be a dominant player for us,” Payton said. “He played exceptionally well at Minnesota (i.e., two sacks), exceptionally well in two or three other games. His toe slowed him down but if you do the math on the trade right now …”

Sean Payton on 'the legend of Taysom Hill'

It still has to eat at the Packers that former GM Ted Thompson tried to sneak Taysom Hill through waivers two years ago only to have Payton claim him for the Saints’ 53-man roster, and then watch as they’ve used Hill as a gadget-play specialist and special teams coverage standout the last two seasons.

But Payton said the Saints hadn’t intended on using Hill in that capacity until about halfway through 2017, when injuries left them shorthanded on special teams. In a meeting to figure out what the Saints should do, Payton suggested trying Hill as a kickoff and punt cover man, and special teams coach Mike Westhoff was on board.

“He excelled,” Payton said. “Then began the legend of Taysom Hill.”

Last season the Saints expanded Hill’s role to playing occasionally as a wildcat quarterback, running back and tight end, as well as even more on special teams. Besides covering punts and kicks, he also returned 14 kickoffs (24.9-yard average).

“You read where he’s fast, but he’s real fast, and he’s physical,” Payton said. “He’s just a real good football player. If (John) Madden were covering games today, he’d just say he’s a real good football player.”

Taysom Hill became a multiple threat for the New Orleans Saints last season.

Payton keeps saying Hill can be a starting quarterback in the league, too, though I wonder just how strongly he feels about that. The Saints traded a third-round pick for Teddy Bridgewater to be their No. 2 last season and re-signed him at $3.25 million to do it again this year.

Having Hill as a starting quarterback would require a big change in an offense, because running is such an important part of his game, though he showed in training camp with the Packers he can spin the ball pretty well as a thrower, too.

“I think he has a great chance to be a starter, yeah, I do,” Payton said. “We would change our offense with whoever is the quarterback. We changed it when we signed Drew (Brees). In other words, I think (Hill) is a passing quarterback. I think Teddy Bridgewater is a starting quarterback. But you tailor what you do with those guys around their strengths.”

Jordy Nelson's rank among Packers' WRs

Jordy Nelson, who reportedly retired this week, should go down ranking anywhere from the No. 5 to No. 7 receiver in Packers history.

Clearly ahead of him are Don Hutson and James Lofton, who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with Billy Howton, who retired in 1963 as the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, and Sterling Sharpe, who ranks No. 2 on the Packers’ all-time receptions list despite having his career cut short by a neck injury.

After that, though, it takes a lot of hair splitting to choose from among Nelson, Greg Jennings and Boyd Dowler.

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Dowler was on the NFL’s all-decade team of the 1960s and averaged a robust 15.3 yards a catch in his 10 years with the Packers.

As for Jennings and Nelson, a year ago I asked a couple longtime members of the Packers’ football operations to pick one over the other, and both struggled. One eventually said Nelson, the other Jennings.

I’ve gone back and forth but lean Jennings, because at their peaks he was more dynamic by just a whisker, though Nelson had more longevity. Either way, Nelson ends his career as one of the Packers’ all-time greats at his position.


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